Last night San Pellegrino’s annual list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World was announced in a ballroom in London. What started out as just one of a dozen similar lists a decade ago has turned into a rabid media affair, attended by the biggest chefs in the food industry and live-tweeted by anyone with a thumb to spare. I watched the event online as a sweaty Brit in a bad suit awkwardly worked his way down from 50 to 1. For the third year running, Copenhagen’s Noma emerged as the best restaurant in the world.
As silly as a numbered list of the world’s best restaurants may seem (more on that in coming week or so), this has become the most coveted recognition in the food industry. For a sense of the impact this list has had on the restaurants it recognizes, just take a look at the tweet sent out by Noma’s chef Rene Redzepi last night before the awards: 1204 people on the waiting list for this evening. Same day in 2008 (Monday 28th of april) 14 guests in all day. #fuckingfairytale
To call Noma the hardest reservation to snag in the world would be a gross understatement; there were enough people on last night’s waiting list to fill the small Noma dining room 30 times over. But as luck would have it, Roads & Kingdoms will be in the hallowed halls of the three-time reigning champ exactly one week from today. Securing this slot took an incredible mixture of patience, technical wizardry, and blind luck: All reservations for a given month are released on a computer system on the second Monday of each month, 10am Nordic time. You log on (at 4am if you live on the East Coast), click like crazy, and hope that the calendar flashes a green date just long enough for you to snag it. Three months of attempting simultaneously with three separate computers gave me ample time to perfect my technique, which finally delivered results on the second Monday of February.
Noma is the first solo project for Redzepi, 34 years old, son of a Albanian taxi driver and Danish cleaning lady, a chef who brought the experience of working at Napa’s French Laundry and Spain’s El Bulli back to his hometown and sparked a revolution in Danish and Nordic cooking that has had deep reverberations across the global dining scene. The most revolutionary thing Redzepi did was to combine the technical mastery of a place like El Bulli with a rigidly Nordic palate of flavors and ingredients. There is no olive oil or citrus on the menu, but there is musk ox and hay and Douglas fir.
We’ll get a chance to talk to Redzepi next week about the madness of these awards, about the explosion of Nordic cuisine since Noma’s induction at the top of the totem pole, and about the dubious idea of trying to rank restaurants in a world as deeply subjective as eating.
And, of course, we’ll feast for hours in what, for one more year at least, everyone will refer to as “the world’s best restaurant.” Stay tuned.